London — In 793, a raid on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne marked the start of the Viking age and a terror that would pervade England for centuries. Successful attacks from Denmark washed ashore year after year, villages were ransacked, towns brutalized; few who stood in their path survived.
Hopeless against these unrelenting assaults, King Æthelred in 991 paid the Danes in silver so they would leave his kingdom in peace. Delighted by the offer of payment, the Vikings returned every year to claim the “Danegeld” from the English coffers, a practice that did not end until Scandinavian prince Cnut won the crown in 1016.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Dane-geld” rightly points out that “if once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”
A millennium later, the British Right is finally learning the lessons of its medieval forebears.
Dominic Cummings is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, a role he has held since Johnson took office in July 2019. Cummings is credited with being the mastermind behind the Vote Leave campaign and the Conservatives’ strategy that led to their winning December’s general election with a stonking majority.
Naturally, this makes him the ultimate bogeyman for the Left. And since the start of the weekend, he has been at the center of their attacks. Cummings has been charged with one of the most heinous crimes in British society: hypocrisy. Cummings was a key figure in devising the government’s lockdown strategy, so the front pages of every broadsheet and tabloid splashed the news that he had traveled some 250 miles north of London — his primary residence — to his family’s home in Durham for child-care reasons.
This episode is difficult for Cummings, who has moved the Conservatives away from being the party of pensioners, the private sector, and the middle classes into a political outfit most popular with the working class. It is an extraordinary transformation, and much of it has relied on painting the opposition as elite and out of touch with ordinary people. American readers will no doubt find some similarities with this approach and their own Republican administration.
But the portrayal of Cummings as an elitist who believes that the rules don’t exist for him is dangerous political territory for him and risks damaging the credibility of that platform. Fortunately, however, Cummings is smarter than most of his opponents, and in an unprecedented move in British political history, on Monday he gave a defensive statement from Downing Street’s Rose Garden and took questions from lobby journalists about the furor.
He outlined his case calmly and with humility. He acted within the rules, he did what any parent would have done — care for their children above all else — and he took necessary precautions to prevent anyone else from being needlessly involved or put at risk.
To every claim of law-breaking, he had a response. To every lie that he had traveled up North multiple times, he cited newspaper falsehoods.
The view that Cummings’s lockdown drive has ruined his image as an anti-elitist has been diminished by those attacking him. Opinion pieces throughout the legacy media have called for his dismissal, followed by attacks from bishops in the Church of England, celebrities, a flurry of major activists, and even the most recent president of the European Council, Donald Tusk. To them, he is a virus threatening to diminish the rules and norms in their carefully curated political system. He must be spared no quarter.
Cummings was an adviser to then–education secretary Michael Gove in the early years of the last decade, when Gove took on the alliance of teachers, civil servants, and unions who resisted conservative reform. They called this group “The Blob,” a reference to a Steve McQueen science-fiction film from 1958 about an amoeba consuming the world. The Blob has followed Cummings since his stint in education, as the revolutionary actions of his masterminded Brexit referendum success have been met with extraordinary resistance from a cabal of lawyers, politicians, journalists, and activists through the U.K. Now they have formed again to attempt to strike him down over his drive to look after his sick family.
There have also been some useful idiots on the Conservative side who align themselves with the Blob, such as MPs William Wragg and Caroline Nokes, who have been quick to join in with leftist campaigns in the past. Just last week Mr. Wragg called the government “immoral” for its health-care surcharge fee for migrant health-care and social-care workers, which earned him a gushing news story in the Guardian.
Many commentators have argued that giving an unelected senior adviser a government platform to defend himself is the biggest break from the unwritten political norms that quietly govern us. They are wrong; the fact that Cummings is even putting up a defense in the face of round-the-clock establishment-wide assault is the true highlight here.
Conservatives in the U.K. have rarely given any resistance to media mobs and instead quickly pay the Danegeld. In the last year or so, there have been a number of high-profile cases where left-wing campaigning journalists have tried, often successfully, to ruin a conservative’s life. The first major recent case was that of Sir Roger Scruton, who was crudely misrepresented by journalist George Eaton in April 2019. Scruton was portrayed as believing that all Chinese people are the same, which some digging from Douglas Murray — who unearthed the tapes of the interview — revealed to be a scandalous misrepresentation.
Nevertheless, before Scruton had a chance to put up a fight against the media onslaught, the Conservative government sacked him from his unpaid position as an adviser to an architectural commission, with Tory MP (and now minister) Johnny Mercer describing removing Sir Roger as a “no-brainer.”
The Danegeld was paid, but the raids kept coming. Daniel Kawczynski, a Conservative MP, faced calls to resign after a media campaign chased his scalp for the crime of attending a conference on conservatism where people whom Buzzfeed and the BBC found distasteful were also present.
And most recently, a huge campaign was launched against a young government aide named Andrew Sabisky, who was slandered and misrepresented as a racist eugenicist on some of the country’s best-selling front pages.
But now the Blob are faced with a target who has said that he hasn’t even considered resigning. Faced with the opportunity to cough up the geld, offer his resignation, and give the vampiric quarters that dominate the fourth estate the vial of blood they crave, Cummings has instead opted to stand firm and reject the Salem-style trial that has all too often scuppered figures on his side.
Last month, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, was filmed standing on Westminster Bridge surrounded by policing colleagues as they took part in the weekly national clapping for carers (this exercise really is as ridiculous as it sounds). A few journalists pointed out that she was breaking social-distancing rules, but there was no great media campaign, despite her lofty status in British society. The completely different reactions to these two “offenses” reveals the nature of Cummings’s complainants: They are politically driven by those who deeply regret his tsunami of victories over them.
Resisting media pressure is only the start. If the conservatives want to kick on and reduce their fragility in future attacks of this kind, they must challenge the cultural power that pervades the publicly funded ivory towers of the universities — many of which are basically pointless — the Church of England, a vast range of dubiously funded NGOs and charities, pressure groups, and many other sources of anti-Tory hate. If we fail to fight back against the Blob, it will continue to threaten to consume us.